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- 1 2016-11-08T12:41:25-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b Here the Tierney company plays off of the success of others to sell more diners. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-08T12:41:25-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
- 1 2016-11-08T12:40:12-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b Sales rhetoric which gave the idea that a man who owned a diner, was a successful American entrepreneur. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-08T12:40:12-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
- 1 2016-11-08T12:42:42-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b The entire advertisement appeals to the desires of working class people to improve their lives, and become successful. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-08T12:42:42-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
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The Masters of the Booming Lunch Car Industry
The lunch car business has been started, and men from varying different ethnic backgrounds have been trying their hands at this new business craze. Even still, the real money had yet to be made.
As Richard J.S Gutman refers to them, “The Big Three” were Patrick J. Tierney, Jerry O’Mahony, and the Worchester Lunch Car Company. These three companies not only made large amounts of money by entering the lunch car business, but they also had lasting effects upon it.
Each of these companies is individually deserving of a book to explain their history and large impact upon the American diner business and American culture. In order to focus on my larger thesis, I will cover the aspects of these companies which I deem the most pertinent to this paper.
As mentioned previously Patrick J. Tierney was the son of Irish immigrants. After operating his first lunch wagon for a short time he decided to purchase a second, and a third, and so on. This string of purchases and expansion to owning multiple lunch wagons in differing areas and cities eventually earned him enough money to start his own wagon construction business. The wagons which Tierney operated before constructing his own, were manufactured by T.H. Buckley. Without Buckley’s previous success it would have exponentially harder for Tierney to create his own successful manufacturing business.
P.J Tierney is a classic example of the American ideal of hard work and eventual success. He worked his way from owning one lunch wagon, to 38 lunch wagons, to his own company which manufactured his own designs. Due to his previous hands on experience and history of working in lunch wagons, he built a new style of wagon which innovated the entire market. A few of his innovations within the lunch wagon business include, bringing the toilet inside (admittedly not his most appealing innovation), tile within the lunch cars, exhaust fans, ventilators, skylights, and electrical lighting. , By the time of his death, Tierney was a millionaire.
Not only did Patrick J. Tierney innovate the lunch wagon but he also made it easy for others to purchase their own wagon and jump start their business, which reinforced the American dream. Tierney was a people’s man and would do just about anything to help people run their own wagons. Gutman talks about Tierney’s character, “He loved lunch cars and would do practically anything to get someone started running his own. . . P.J. Tierney made it his business to get out among the people ad sell his lunch cars personally.”This ideal was continued by his sons after his death. In Hurley’s book, Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream, he describes an advertisement by the P.J Tierney Sons Inc, “. . . P.J. Tierney Sons, asserted that by purchasing a diner, the man with no business experience and minimal capital could climb the ladder of success and obtain a “comfortable home – a good car – education for the children – the god things of life for his family.””
The success of T.H Buckley is also responsible for the success of the Worcester Lunch Car Company. The city of Worcester itself was already slathered in lunch wagons from the previous success of lunch wagon pioneer, T.H Buckley. A former insurance and real-estate agent, Philip H. Duprey formed the Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company in 1906. Along with former carpenters of the T.H Buckley Company, Duprey began his lunch car company. Interestingly enough as Gutman states, “Incorporating some of Buckley’ former employees, Worcester occasionally advertised itself as the successor to the T.H Buckley Company.”
The first wagons made by the Worcester Company was the American Eagle Café, which was finished in 1907. This wagon was given the serial number 200, there was never a wagon from the Worcester Company with the serial number 1.
Once again building off the Buckley company, the American Eagle Café was elaborately painted on the exterior, and the spokes of the wheels were pinstriped. The early Worcester Company lunch cars commonly used scenes of American patriotism, history, and hunting as embellishment on the outside of the wagon. The connection to the patriotic spirit and culture of America only further intertwined the lunch wagon business into American culture. A short lived but innovative design by Duprey was the addition of a monitor roof which allowed for operable window vents, and extra natural lighting within the wagons. The detail and extravagance of the wagons built by the Worcester Company made it easy to distinguish them from other manufactures. Author Randy Garbin explains this in his book, Diners of New England, “In northern New England, for instance, you could safely bet that any diner with porcelain on the exterior likely came from Worcester Lunch Car.” Worchester Lunch Cars were known for their designs and cleanliness.
The last of the big three, would be Jerry O’Mahony. O’Mahony started off working at his father’s grill. Soon after around 1910 Jerry and his brother bought their first dining car in New York. O’Mahony’s first diner was in fact a Tierney diner. The success of their first diner, inevitably led to the purchase of more, and eventually a chain of eight O’Mahony Wagons. Eventually these wagons turned into stationary diners. No longer did the term “lunch wagon” accurately describe these stationary 24 hour diners. The O’Mahony model of diners eventually extended to around 26 feet long, the door had moved to the center of the building, and they all retained a symmetrical and rectangular design. By the 1920’s O’Mahony left the idea and style of the lunch wagons behind completely. His new products were close to the ground, eye catching, and there were more windows within the new diners. An interview of Richard J.S Gutman as quoted by Michael C. Gabriele expresses the importance of O’Mahony, “”Jerry O’Mahony was a pivotal figure in the diner manufacturing business,” Gutman . . . said during a July 2012 interview. “O’Mahony diners became the standard by which all others were judged. His company built fabulous diners.” Along with new design innovations and the removal of the portability and designs of the past, Jerry O’Mahony also spread the use of the term “diner.” Witzel states “Leave it to Jerry O’Mahony to make the moniker a part of restaurant culture: In 1924, he splashed the word all over a company sales catalog and unofficially, the eatery for everyman had its permanent name.”
The 1920’s is commonly called the “Golden Age” for diners (often disputed with the 30's). With O’Mahony, the Tierney Sons, and The Worchester Dining Car Company it is not hard to see why. During this time the Tierney Sons were competing against O’Mahony. Unfortunately, by the late 1920’s the Tierney Sons had “ran their business into the ground.” He expands upon this in his book and explains that after selling large amounts of stock the brothers effectively lost control of their company. The brothers attempted, along with their uncle to organize a new company under the Tierney name. They were brought to court under fraud and were furthermore restrained from using their own name. Eventually the stock-market crash forced them to close their family business for good. This opening was taken up by O’Mahony and he soon emerged as the dominant manufacturer of diners. Gutman, American Diner; Then and Now, 42. Ibid., 45. Witzel, The American Diner, 48. Gutman, The American Diner; Then and Now, 46. Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks, 38.Gutman, The Worcester Lunch Car Company, 19. Ibid. Gutman, The American Diner; Then and Now, 50. Witzel, The American Diner¸ 47. Randy Garbin. Diners of New England (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2005), x.Gutman, The American Diner; Then and Now, 53. Witzel, The American Diner, 50. Gabriele, The History of Diners in New Jersey, 19. Ibid., 54. Richard J.S. Gutman, “Diner Design: Overlooked Sophistication,”,Perspecta Vol. 15 (1975): 45. Gutman, The American Diner; Then and Now, 72.
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The Classic American Entrepreneurship
The appeal of owning a lunch wagon to working-class Americans.
Why was the idea of owning a lunch wagon so appealing to working-class Americans at the turn of the century?
Working class Americans at the turn of the century worked hard, and they worked hard for minimal pay. The working class scraped by doing manual labor, and dangerous labor in pursuit of the American dream. After Walter Scott decided to quit his job and create the lunch wagon business others followed suit.
The appeal of owning your own lunch wagon is the same as the appeal today in the twenty-first century of owning your own business. Not only do you get to be your own boss, but you also get to make the rules and set the standards which your business runs by. It was common for lunch wagons to follow their own rules, and to have different food menus based upon their owners. One of the problems the lunch wagons ran into of course was the issue of remaining open late into the mornings, which was against their permits. The decision to do stay open late or to close before 10:00 am was made by each individual business man. Those who decided to stay open past the curfew on lunch wagons did so in an effort to make an extra buck. Dictating your own rules, work hours, and success widely appealed to the working class, who were subject to the exact opposite in their previous jobs.
The varying menus of each lunch wagon were subject to more variability than the hours or location of lunch wagons. A menu was susceptible to not only the patrons of the lunch wagon, but also the tastes of the owners. While the lunch wagon was primarily horse drawn, the menus were limited to what could be easily transferred and prepared beforehand at home. For example, Walter Scott prepared all of his food at home beforehand because his small lunch wagon did not include a kitchen. Of course, after the inclusion of more space to incorporate a small kitchen within the lunch wagon the menu possibilities greatly expanded.
Another large factor which affected the food menus and success of the lunch wagons was the ethnic diversity of the owners. People from varying backgrounds left their jobs and pursued a career in the lunch wagon business. As Andrew Hurley states in his book, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks, “The majority of diner builders, operators and customers were either immigrants or second-generation Americans. German, Irish, Italian, and Jewish families dominated the manufacturing end of the business. . .” Due to this large diversity in the lunch wagon business, patrons were guaranteed to find varying flavors and types of foods from wagon to wagon, and often immigrants frequented wagons owned by others from their culture.
A perfect example of a second-generation American finding his own personal success story within the lunch wagon business is Patrick Tierney. Patrick Tierney was the son of an Irish immigrant, and went on to build his own wildly successful diner company.
This wide ethnic diversity within the diner business would continue for the rest of diner history. On a phone interview, I had with Michael C. Gabriele, journalist, author, and member of the Nutley Historical Society, I asked him the hard-hitting question of “What is your favorite diner?”. Despite finding a new favorite diner almost constantly he stated that one of his favorites is, “The Wall Street Diner, its owned by a young Greek couple. They dreamed of having a neighborhood diner. It’s an old vintage stainless steel, Mahoney diner. They know what they’re doing. Their food is impeccable. He continued to explain that in New Jersey it is very common for Greeks to run and operate diners, as they have been doing so for many years. Now days, there are more Hispanics and Asian people running diners along the east coast.
The success of immigrants and second-generation Americans in the lunch wagon and diner business reinforces the classic American dream. Anyone, from any background, and any ethnicity can start their own business and create their own success. This ideal of American culture is deeply related to the success story of the diner, and its uniqueness to America.
There’s no better way to put it than what Gabriele said during our interview about the success of diner owners, “They should be very proud, it’s a great success.” Michael Karl Witzel, The American Diner (Osceola: MBI Publishing Company, 1999), 17. Andrew Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in the Postwar Consumer Culture (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 34. Ibid. Interview with Michael C. Gabriele. Author of The History of Diners in New Jersey. Transcript in my possession. Ibid.